The STI Clinic News > HIV Conference on Transmission
# Friday, May 20, 2016
Posted: Friday, May 20, 2016 | Categories: HIV

At the 5th Eastern Europe and Central Asia AIDS Conference earlier this year, President of the Red Cross Massimo Barra spoke out about the current state of HIV testing. Barra urged for HIV screening to be "brought out of the hospitals, clinics and centres and onto the streets", thereby accessing particularly high-risk people who might be avoiding medical advice due to the stigma that surrounds the disease.

There’s a good chance that this whole event might have passed you by; in fact, you may not even have been aware that there was currently an HIV/AIDS crisis going on in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. But it’s certainly a cause for concern. In 2013, an estimated 1.1 million people were living with HIV in this region of the world, and that number has been steadily growing ever since.

While the numbers aren’t quite so out of control in the UK, recent years have seen HIV diagnoses creeping up. Coupled with this is that fact that a large proportion of diagnoses (40% in 2014) are made late into the disease, at a point when treatment should have already started. Across the world it seems that people are not only continuing to have unsafe sex, but they’re also failing to get adequate testing and treatment when they require it.

The History of HIV and AIDS

It is not known exactly when HIV originated, but many people think it started in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1920s, and was initially contracted from chimpanzees. However, it wasn’t until the 1980s that the virus began to receive widespread attention across the globe. By this point, unfortunately, an epidemic was already under way; it’s believed that by 1980 HIV had spread to five continents.

By 1986, 85 countries had reported almost 40,000 cases of AIDS to the World Health Organisation, with the majority stemming from North, South and Central America. By the end of the decade, it was estimated that this number had gone up to 400,000 worldwide.

A number of high profile celebrity deaths (including Freddie Mercury and Rock Hudson) occurred as a result of AIDS in the 80s and 90s, galvanising government bodies, charity campaigners, and medical research companies to take action. A new era of antiretroviral treatments began in 1995, and over the next few years, prices were reduced for HIV-positive people living in developing countries.

Today, medical advances have made it possible for people with HIV to live a healthy, normal life. Modern-day medications are associated with fewer side effects, and – provided the virus is detected early enough – can often allow the patient to enjoy a normal lifespan.

Contracting HIV

HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system, leaving it weakened and vulnerable to infections. It is spread through infected bodily fluids (semen, vaginal fluid, anal fluid, blood, breast milk) and is normally contracted during unprotected penetrative anal or vaginal sex. According to a study by Public Health England, 95% of people diagnosed with HIV in 2013 contracted it through sexual contact.

You can also contract HIV from sharing needles, or getting infected blood in your eye or an open wound. HIV-positive mothers can also transmit the disease to their baby during birth or breastfeeding.

There are two particularly at-risk groups for HIV in the UK:

    Men who have sex with men

    Heterosexual African men and women 

In a 2015 report, Public Health England recommended that people who fall into these two risk groups should be screened for HIV once a year, and every three months if they are having unprotected sex with new partners. The report also stressed the importance of prompt diagnosis for heterosexuals. Because HIV is often associated with gay or bisexual men, and African men and women, the fear is that many people who do not fall into these groups will not bother to get tested. However, there is still a risk for people outside of these two groups.

Testing for HIV

The good news is that it’s very easy to get tested for HIV. The NHS offers free testing through GP surgeries and sexual health clinics. Private clinics also offer HIV testing, as do trusted online health services such as The STI Clinic.

It is better to know if you have HIV as the treatment interventions have excellent clinical outcomes – especially if the diagnosis is early.

 

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